UK Women's Basketball

Snowden becoming 'important piece' for UK women

Eight games ago, Keyla Snowden played just five minutes total.

She spent most of that Vanderbilt game, as she spent most of the Southeastern Conference schedule, sitting on the Kentucky bench watching her team play.

It wasn't because she couldn't score. The 5-foot-7 standout from Lexington Catholic can definitely score.

It wasn't because she was too small or too slow to play in the SEC.

It was because she wasn't playing defense.

"Every day we've worked on defensive fundamentals and there were days that Keyla didn't do a good job," Coach Matthew Mitchell explained. "But she kept plugging and we kept trying to push her."

Snowden acknowledged that she had to get better defensively if she was going to get to play.

"A lot of times I'd be out of position," she said. "I'd do a lot of ball watching."

But she wanted to play, so she started pushing herself to be her best at defense.

"I've worked extra hard," Snowden said. "My coaches and teammates have encouraged me and let me know I can do it. That's helped a lot."

It's helped her go from a player who averaged just 7.1 minutes in the first 11 SEC games to a starter in her last five.

Since the Vanderbilt contest where she spent most of her time in warm-ups, the guard has averaged 25 minutes a game.

Even program outsiders have seen Snowden's progress this season.

Lexington Christian Coach Jason Seamands recently observed a UK practice. He faced Snowden in high school when she was at archrival Lexington Catholic. He told Mitchell afterward that he was amazed by the guard's progress.

"Her ability to really get down and guard people is great," Seamands said when asked about it on Thursday. "She's definitely an athletic, SEC kind of two guard now. She really caught my eye how quickly she moves her feet."

When he relayed those same opinions to Mitchell, it made the UK coach smile.

"She's raised her level," he said. "It made me think of how proud we are of the progress she's made."

Snowden is going to have to keep making progress on both ends of the floor if No. 19 UK wants to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, which starts Saturday at Freedom Hall against Liberty.

"She needs to have a good tournament for us to advance," Mitchell said. "She's an important piece."

Snowden, UK's leading three-point shooter at 39.3 percent, has been part of an outside resurgence for the Cats, who have made a school-record 167 three-pointers this season. The guard has made two or more three-pointers in 11 games this season.

"Players like Keyla — when you look at teams that can make a run — are important kids," Mitchell said. "They're kids that can knock down threes at crucial times. Kids who can make buckets, make free throws."

Since high school, Snowden has been one of those types of players.

She still holds the Kentucky high school record for free-throw percentage in a season at 91 percent. She's also tied for career percentage at 84.7.

Snowden played in three Sweet Sixteen tournaments while at Catholic, winning two of them.

The guard, who played on a loaded Knights team with several big-time Division I players, was Sweet Sixteen Most Valuable Player in 2006.

There's something about the post-season that makes her heart rate elevate slightly.

"I love this time of year," Snowden said. "Love it. The feeling you get, it's like a rush. I can't wait. I haven't been to a big tournament since high school."

Now that she gets her chance, she doesn't want to be doing it from the bench.